Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Deskbound

Several times in the past year or so I have had to combat the suggestion that faculty, postdocs, and grad students "of today", not to mention "of the future", don't want or need their own desks. Of course we all need a "space" to sit down now and then, and maybe we even need a place to put our laptop (or mobile device) for a while. However, we apparently don't want or need our own assigned space. Walls and doors are isolating (and cost money). Cubicles are depressing (no argument from me about that), so let's have open-plan spaces with unassigned desks, "soft seating", and collaborative spaces (a.k.a. tables). I say: Let's not.

Studies apparently show that people are not in their offices 100% of the time, so maybe not everyone needs a designated space to call their own. If the people-to-desk ratio is calculated correctly, most people should be able to find a place to sit (assuming they even want to do that) when they need to. Anyone who happens to have stuff they don't want to carry around can have a locker.

I asked one of the planners for the project in question how I would find my students and others if no one has an assigned space (finding people is not actually my main concern, but I was curious). The answer: when someone temporarily alights in a space, they log in and their location will be registered on a website or monitor that I can check. Or maybe I could just put locator-devices on everyone and keep track that way? I have long wanted to do that for my most adventurous cat (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. Cat without an assigned office.
Need to have a private conversation with a student/advisor/anyone? Go to a "huddle room". Need to work with a group without disturbing others? That probably won't be possible, but at least there will be lots of "collaborative space". Anyone nearby can just put on headphones. Or leave. In fact, maybe everyone will just stay home (because it might be quieter there). It seems to me that an increase in collaborative space might just drive people into isolation because they can't get any work done when at "work".

And yet I am told that this type of office space works well in "the corporate world" because it is "creative" and "flexible". I am told that academics associate the size and location of their offices with status and that is why I am clinging to the antiquated idea of everyone having an assigned office.

I think I shall continue to cling to this idea and argue that everyone -- faculty, staff, researchers, grad students, adjunct/contingent faculty, technicians, lab managers -- needs their own, assigned space, even if it is shared space (and ideally not a cubicle farm).

I think there should also be collaborative, flexible space that people can go to as needed. This can be scattered about: shared within or among research groups and in other spaces generally available to students and visitors etc. I like that idea. I just don't like the idea of not having any other place to go to when someone wants to be (semi)alone and quiet, or have a private conversation without having to check if a huddle room is available.

I am quite sure that eventually this unassigned-space idea will disappear from the project in question, although it has persisted longer than I expected.

Am I being a dinosaur about space?

63 comments:

Janothar said...

Ok, maybe this is a dumb question, but if people don't have assigned spaces, where do their personal library of references go? Or are they also saying that the size of an individual library is a status symbol and that's why academics insist on having their books in their offices?

Anonymous said...

My partner has a 'gradlab' with an open plan. The grad students each have their own desk, but also have couches and lockers. It may work for some people, but I can't any work done. There's always someone talking or making noise, and it's difficult for me to concentrate fully when there are people moving across my line of sight. As much as I would like to have work-dates there, it just doesn't work for me.

I think some people really thrive within groups, and find that kind of environment stimulating. For me it's just overwhelming.

Alex said...

I think you should be pro-active and fabricate some weird-sounding idea and tell them it's even more hip and modern than...whatever dumb idea they were trying to shove at you. Send them off to worry that they're no longer the coolest kids in town because they were unaware of this dumb weird idea that you just made up to baffle them. "Oh, yeah, it's the Ergonomic Collaborative Social Layout Design. You haven't heard of it? Yeah, it involves stackable cubicles made of transparent aluminum. Go look it up. All the cool, hip people are doing it."

Anonymous said...

One google search on open plan offices later:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494413000340

Anonymous said...

No, you are not. I am currently stuck in an office with 6 others. This is the single most negative thing about my current job. 90% of my time at work is spent with headphones on. I usually do all my reading at home, and all my thinking is also done elsewhere.

I don't care what the "corporate" world does - my job requires thinking and concentration, and I cannot do either most of the time in my current office.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, FemaleScienceProfessor, for standing up for reason. I am a postdoc in an open floor plan, and it's terrible. It *discourages* collaboration because everyone's trying to be quiet and not disturb anyone. Or they work from home. There are a few private rooms, but they're always in use; I have to conduct all my conference calls outside (fortunately the climate isn't cold, but it is sometimes rainy). We actually do have cubicles but that's a concession; I heard the architects were pushing exactly what you described, which I think would be even worse! Except maybe at least there could be loud floors and quiet floors, like on the train.

I think the ideal setup would have a combination of private offices *and* collaborative/meeting spaces where people work together (and regular events that bring them there).

Brad Holden said...

It is popular in the corporate world to force people to have no permanent office space. It is cheap and it does a great job of enforcing a hierarchy. (I mean, the C level folks have to have a office because, well, anything else would be silly.) The excuse given is flexibility and creativity, (but never mentioned making people feel stressed and insecure.)

Well, it turns out studies have shown that it lowers productivity in addition to making people feel stressed and insecure.

See, for example,
this article

C said...

No, you're not. Ask them: where is the evidence of those so-called benefits? (There isn't.)

In the meantime, read the book "Peopleware".

Anonymous said...

Didn't Cloud throw up a link at Wandering Scientist recently about people being hugely less productive in open offices as opposed to having their own enclosed space?

Also, I have a complex desk-based filing system supported by post-its. It (the permanent desk) is an integral part of my workflow!

Anonymous said...

My graduate group didn't have assigned desks for students. Well, it did, but they were in an isolated office with no computers, so basically no one used that office except to read papers. In the main lab, there were several computers that anyone was supposed to be able to use, and when I joined my advisor told me I could sit anywhere whenever I needed a computer. In practice though, everyone had a space they'd staked out as their own, and I ended up in a tiny equipment room that was effectively a closet because it was the only free space. More people have laptops now, so maybe it wouldn't be as much of an issue, but in my experience those sorts of spaces do end up with hierarchies and assigned seats, they just aren't organized so it's easier for someone to be excluded. (As a more senior grad student, I arranged the purchase of several additional computers to make sure everyone had a place to work.)

Anonymous said...

I've seen this format adopted in several universities near me. There has been no benefit at all, at least from the perspective of the people who actually work in the space. Either i) many people stay home because working there is unpleasant or impossible; or ii) senior people flout the rules and claim territory for themselves, engendering bitterness; or iii) both.

Whoosh... said...

We've been through the open plan office discussion recently and nobody who actually has to work there likes the idea of it. It's not only the privacy thing and the stress of searching for an appropriate room to have a conversation without disturbing 50 other people. It's often that people need stuff to be able to work and that is usually much more than just a laptop or 5 printouts that could be put in a locker. Leaving my stuff on my desk in the evening helps me to get more quickly back into my ideas the next morning. And what do I do if I leave my temporary desk to have a coffee? Do I put everything back in my locker? I'm not very convinced of this concept either.

Erika said...

Poor you! You have hell to look forward to.

It would save everyone huge amounts of both money and suffering if managements worldwide did not insist on repeating this stupid open office experiment forever, but every time they get this idea they unfortunately tend to be unstoppable.

It does not seem to matter that it has been proven again and again (and again and again and again and an eternal number of more agains) that the open office idea simply does not work. Anywhere.

PhysicsGal said...

Definitely not being a dinosaur. This grad student needs quiet and solitude to work (theory research does not do well in crowded spaces). Moreover, there is always *that* grad student, or *that* professor who would not differentiate between 'busy' and 'not busy' and insist on talking to everyone in the common area. I would foresee huddle rooms being claimed (unofficially) so people could get work done.

Anonymous said...

I've known two departments that have tried this with graduate students. I was part of one of these when I was in grad school. The main problem was that academics, even student academics, have books, papers, computer setups, pet fish, etc. Everyone ended up marking out their own space anyway, but it was just harder to do so post-cubicle. Finding people was never an issue because everyone claimed their own spot and we all figured it out pretty quickly (and the space wasn't that big). People who wanted quiet space for writing had to flee to libraries and places where the expectation was less "collaborative". In the other department that did this, the students designated the whole shared area as a no-talking zone and then it was more or less back to shared office space, just with better furniture. When our department abandoned the experiment and went back to the cubicle farm, we did keep a bit of the collaborative furniture to decorate the break room. It made the break room much cozier and productive, and it became a great place to chat about research ideas (or Lady Gaga - it was about 50/50). I think renovating existing break-room or meeting space to make more collaborative space available to everyone is probably the happy medium. Stocking that space with food and drinks works very well for graduate students at least :) Probably a lot of things go into the design of good break room that would encourage discussion and creative productivity. Simple things like big sunny windows, live plants, cozy couches, etc. make people want to linger and not just grab their coffee and run. If those collaborative people want to make a contribution, then changing the break/meeting rooms from being warehouses of old broken tables and chairs to something pleasant would be a great place to start.

I think in industry, there are many people who are working on the same problem as each other, so it makes sense to work in more collaborative spaces. In academia, often it is just you you who cares about your research question, so the other folks working on their questions (out loud) can be a distraction. Of course, maybe it is exactly such academic isolation that IS the problem, but I don't think it will be fixed by physical space changes.

Anonymous said...

"works well in the corporate world". Speaking as someone in the corporate world: Bullshit.

As soon as you have anyone taking private meetings, you quickly find out that there are not enough huddle rooms. Collaborative spaces turn into chat spaces. Cubes suck. Open plan seating sucks. It's all about lack of privacy - I don't know how you can possibly do student hours if you worked in a situation like we do.

Female Science Professor said...

Did someone mention a personal library? As in paper, books etc.? Apparently we don't need paper or physical books anymore, or so I am told. Some of us may want them for irrational nostalgic sentimental reasons, but all we really need is a small portable electronic device.

Alethea said...

My postdoc lab is an "open" floor plan. 5 labs share continuous bench space, my lab has about 7 bays. And grad student/postdoc desks are the ends of the benches. I'm on an aisle desk, so everyone walks by all the time - apparently the window desks are a little quieter. There's always talking, moving etc and it can be distracting. Luckily for me, I have my electrophysiology room to hole up in. It's not shared, so it's my own solitary cave.

Alex said...

Why does everybody want us to be more like the corporate world? For all the many, many, many, MANY flaws of academics, we've never managed to hemorrhage money quite as prodigiously as a failing corporation.

I am frankly terrified of making universities like corporations, because my worst colleagues would be a terror to behold if given suits, corporate travel budgets, and twice as many buzzwords.

Anonymous said...

I am a PhD student who had to move from a shared office to a cubicle floor plan. I miss having walls and a door.

Finding students is not a trivial concern. My advisor often has difficulty finding his students now that so many of us go somewhere else (e.g. library study room), or stay home, when we want to be productive.

Bill S. said...

I doesn't work well in corporate environments either. It's been trendy for a while, but the issue is often really about saving money. But that never takes into account the loss of productivity. With cell phone conversations everywhere, open spaces are often pure chaos.

Flygirl said...

I'm a postdoc and have my own desk, but it is in an open lab space. To make it even worse, one of the main walls is entirely glass. I actually hate it. I get distracted all the time plus I think my level baseline level of anxiety is higher than normal due to the simple fact that I am on "display" to everyone walking by in the hallway.

I liked this short article in the New Yorker about Open-Offices. I've seen examples in my workplace of all the negatives associated with open floor plans that they mention in the article.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/currency/2014/01/the-open-office-trap.html?_escaped_fragment_

CMS said...

Highly recommend reading "Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that won't stop talking." These types of arrangements are discussed, as well as "pod"-style desk layouts in elementary school, and the general concepts of group work as put forth by the corporate and educational thought leaders today.

The author says it better than I can paraphrase here, but it's a bunch of baloney and just does work for much of the population.

xykademiqz said...

I spent my graduate school days in a cubicle farm with 20 other students and with my head phones on non-stop.

Now that I have students, I refused to take one large student office where they would all go together and instead asked for two smaller ones, so each student would have more room for their personal space and so there would be fewer people in each room. Unfortunately, it's impossible to give grad students individual offices, but there is no reason not to help them feel as comfortable and productive as possible...

The open floor plans are pure insanity.

Anonymous said...

Our lab is scheduled to move into a new building within a couple of years (they're still building the new place...) and I am dreading the new arrangements that will be made in the new space. I hope they don't try to set up this insane "flexible" seating. My desk is very messy, with papers spread all around. Granted, I do not use all of these papers at any given time, but I feel comfortable having them around, I know where to find what when I need it, and it is more efficient to keep everything as it is when I leave for the day or for a class/meeting and find it the same way when I come back. I think there is something soothing in habits, including sitting at the same desk with the same plant on the left and poster in front of you. It would be distracting to be moving all the time. Working in a cubicle was already challenging when others sitting near-by had phone or in-person meetings - in a room with 15+ cubes, the probability of at least one person having such a need at any given time is pretty high, even with people lining up in the fire escape and bathrooms to make personal calls.

Flexible seating also makes one feel like one doesn't belong in the workplace - I have witnessed that it doesn't take very long to pile the contents of someone's cubicle space into a box when you need them to leave, but still, the overall impression is a little more positive.

Anonymous said...

At the postdoc and grad student level, I don't necessarily think "a room of one's own" is a necessity, but I DO think a desk of one's own should be provided. Students and postdocs run between lab and computer work all day and need to have a home to store all their stuff. Papers, lab notebooks, granola bars, photos of pets or family they never see. I vote no on "soft seating" arrangements. Everyone needs a home at work.

Anonymous said...

The occasions I've had to work in that sort of environment I've hated it - it means I have to lock up all my stuff while I go use the bathroom. Or if I have twenty minute piece of code running and want to grab a coffee, I have to wait for the code to finish, then lock up my stuff, then get coffee, then get everything set up again. It's super inconvenient.

And who cares if people associate office space with prestige? I bet the students (or adjuncts - it's always students and adjuncts who get the "shared" desk plans) have the same feelings, so when they're stuck in free range desks they will feel super devalued and unappreciated.

I like having private offices with small N of people per office (assuming individual offices aren't feasible) surrounding a central open common area with work tables and lounge areas. The best of both worlds in my opinion.

EIF said...

As a postdoc I chose to abandon my assigned desk in an open lab (with a beautiful window and view in front of me, for a windowless room filled with as many desks as would fit. It was quieter, there were only 2 other people who actually used the desks in there, and I didn't have anyone looking over my shoulder or surprising me. As a grad student, I also enjoyed a small office again filled with as many desks as would fit. We could lock the door when no one was there, which I really appreciated when I was working after hours. I think everyone needs their own desk even if they don't need individual offices. I'm currently in an office with one other person and it's great. It's mostly quiet, but when I have a question, I just turn around and ask. Perfect balance of collaboration and privacy without having to go all 'soft seating'.

Anonymous said...

As one of the few labs that acutally has room for their students to have their own desk, I love it. I see many of my fellow grad students sitting in hallways, at the library or wherever they can find space to work and not being able to accomplish much because they don't have room.

That being said my desk is in a shared office with five other grad students and things get crazy in here most of the time. Headphones and white noise help drown everyone out since I actually like getting things done.

I envy my friends in Phd programs where they have an office with a door, even if its shared with one other person. Quiet is so hard to find and so important.

EscapedEastOfTheBigMuddy said...

I'm in Big Science. Sometime I go to a big national lab to work with my collaborators.

We have and need collaborative spaces and spaces where a scientist who is only going to be in town for a few days can grab a seat of opportunity.

We get a lot of use out of these spaces, because this is where you stay connected to the heartbeat of the project.

But anyone who is going to be on-site for a while always asks for a designated desk out of the collaborative space. Because you do need room to keep you references, and you need to know that you can walk in and get to work without trawling through various open-use spaces in search of the one that has free desks today.

But most of all you need a place that you can guarantee will not be connected to the heartbeat of the project because you need to think deeply, well and uninterrupted for significant lengths of time.

I suppose you could get that deep-thinking done with some first-come-first-servd offices with doors, but then the bean counter haven't gained anything.

olympiasepiriot said...

Hello from the meerkat in cubicle (5, B). I hate it. But, I deal. And there is no way I could deal with unassigned space instead.

You are not being a dinosaur.

Even in a cubicle, the noise level can get insanely distracting. I have found that http://www.simplynoise.com/ and http://rain.simplynoise.com/ to be sanity-savers. I have them running simultaneously, the noise at about 20%, the rain at 100%.

Anonymous said...

Open spaces are a dumb idea.

"Oh, hey, I'm just going to leave these tests here while I go to the bathroom." Or, graded tests? I'm sure there is some sort of privacy violation there.

I had a student last semester who was a victim of domestic abuse. How would that go down?

In my grad school days, they "renovated a building" to modernize, and be just what the (biologists mainly) needed. Without actually consulting anyone who actually would work in the building. Open plan....for a lab.

Where people were doing cell culture, transfection, etc.

(as a bonus, the building also had a darkroom... with an external window.)

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"Am I being a dinosaur about space?"

Yes and no. Some people work best with a quiet, private space; others do better in an open collaborative environment. Some do best with a mix—sometimes private, sometimes social.

A well-designed workplace gives people options to find the type of space they need at the moment. This actually requires somewhat more space than an all-private office, as there needs to be both a private space and sufficient shared space.

The push for all-shared space is driven by people who want to minimize costs, supported by extroverts who can't imagine actually doing work when they could be socializing.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Our department has several different models for how grad students get desks (because our tiny department of 10 faculty is scattered over 4 different buildings).

In one building, we have large grad offices on the same key. One room has students at permanent desks who collaborate in the same research group; one room has sofas, long tables, a couple of cubicles, and the refrigerator and microwave; another room has cubicles and a strict no-talking policy. By having a variety of different spaces, students can gravitate to the one that fits their needs best—it is not one-size-fits-all.

Perhaps the most common thing is for students to be in the "social" space when they want to collaborate or have conversations, and in the silent space (referred to as the "graveyard") when they want uninterrupted programming or writing time.

In other buildings, students may get a cubicle, a desk in a corner of a lab, or lab bench space with no desk, depending on the space available.

Anonymous said...

The idea that scientists (and scientists in training) don't need their own desk is too stupid for words. My space is full of old reference books that will never be available in electronic form, file cabinets full of old journal articles (with my highlighting and notes scribbled on them), stacks of data, piles of notes describing my ideas for future experiments and drawings of models that I'm testing, not to mention snacks, tea, and photos of my partner. These are the things that I need to do my work. Thanks, FSP, for fighting against such a ridiculous idea!

Anonymous said...

As someone who works in industry, whenever I hear of an idea like this, I have to stifle a giggle. "Sure, that sounds lovely. Let's start with the C-level executives in an open floor plan, and the rest of us will follow their example" is usually my suggestion.

Oddly enough, this suggestion does not go over well. But surely, we want our top people to be leaders in innovation!

Anonymous said...

Of course it is a stupid idea, for many reasons, and I am glad I have a (tiny) office of my own with a door that locks.

But...I always shared an office as a grad student and postdoc with 1-4 other people (with assigned desks). I have to admit that I miss the comradery.

JaneB said...

I still kind of miss my shared post-doc spaces, but I think that's partly retropective rosy glows of nostalgia and partly missing post-doccing. I love the idea of trying to get all my office stuff into a locker! Teaching materials, books, papers that don't exist on line, paper for drawing on and writing on, equipment for field and labwork, samples, teaching aids, teaching supplies, spare sweaters (our boiler is eccentric and likes the OFF mode), heck, even the phone book...

Also, are there just more extraverts or people who've learnt to act extraverted in the "corporate world"? Face time is very tiring. I like to pull faces whilst I think and not be laughed at. I find earphones/ear plugs claustrophobic... or maybe I'm just not fit for work!

David S said...

As a postdoc, in my shared office it's already a question of working productively at home in the quiet vs. seeing people face-to-face. I answer it by working at home for half of the day and being in the office for the other half.

I would stop coming to the office if I didn't have my own desk.

Partly it's a productivity issue, partly it's about feeling valued/respected enough by the university in order to have my own space.

If they want to treat me like a commercial worker-bee, then they have to start paying me like one.

Anonymous said...

Seems like these people should read Woolf's "A Room of One's Own."

EliRabett said...

You are told and they lie.

Old Biddy said...

I was in industry and we had a combination of shared offices and cubes. The shared offices were definitely preferred. I can't imagine what it would be like with an open floor plan - I've talked to people who hated it.
My students have office areas next to the labs. It does get a bit loud in some of the offices, so they will go hide in the conference room, an empty desk in one of the labs, etc, when they want to concentrate.
Anyway, count me with the dinosaurs on this one. Some programmers may be able to work from anywhere, but scientists need to spread out more.

Lorand said...

The open plan office sounded like a neat idea for roughly three weeks in 1999, before anybody had actually tried it. Now it belongs in the dustbin with leaded gasoline, tattoo eyeliner, carpeted cat furniture, and all the other ideas that briefly sounded appealing but turned out to be obviously terrible in hindsight.

I survived my last few years as a grad student in a new 30-person cubicle bullpen office, and it was terrible. Even though we had desks and bookshelves to call our own, it was impossible to work in that space. The constant noise and *presence* of other people drove us out of the building in search of quiet and private spaces. People were constantly hiding out in the meeting rooms in order to work, make phone calls, and talk in confidence with colleagues.

The most attractive thing a lab can offer undergrads is the promise of a desk, a door that locks, and a tea kettle to call their own. Taking those things away from grad students is just crazy.

Faced with a department veering toward a batshit open-office plan, why not insist on a grad student referendum? It won't be hard to achieve a resounding no vote. (If you really want to be obnoxious, ask visiting prospectives what they think of the idea and keep a tally.)

Rosesred said...

I am in the corporate world and we don't have assigned seating. However, we certainly do have lots of spaces for just one or two people. Not all of us are extroverted, and everybody sometimes needs a space to work without distractions. Because we have that, the flexibility of the workspace actually works very well and still saves the company money

Anonymous said...

I COULD NOT AGREE MORE.

The new building in my grad university was built with this idea in mind. Now instead of having offices shared with 1 or two other grad student/postdocs, they are all in an open plan with practically no privacy. Luckily the building was delyaed and I was out of there before I would have had to be a part of that.

I have had other grad students say that they would actually prefer to have their desk in a public space, such as the lab. Mostly I think these are people that do 90% of their work in the lab. But for me, I really need a private(ish) work space in order to get high-attention tasks such as programming and writing done.

Anonymous said...

A graduate student's opinion:
Honestly, the most productive place for me is the kitchen table at my place, if my roommate isn't around. I can work there for 4 straight hours or more except getting food/cooking and you know....going to the restroom. I do not do that often, but when a serious deadline is approaching, I usually choose to stay there instead of going to school -- I have a shared office with my own desk and bookshelf there. I do like my office, but sharing a place, in essence, means you are to be disturbed by something or someone. It really depends on what kind of officemates you have.

Anonymous said...

I'm a grad student who's been through a lot of different shared or open office configurations.

This semester, by sheer chance, I have my own office. My productivity has gone through the roof in a way I really didn't expect. I still spend a lot of time interacting with other people, but the ability to 100% shut out the world when I'm mentally on a roll makes such a difference. I probably only spend about nine hours a week in that kind of hyperfocused mode, but those hours make all the difference.

Anonymous said...

I am a graduate student in an open-plan office space who spends about 75% of my time in the lab and 25% at my desk to read and plan experiments. I guess I am at least lucky to have my own assigned desk, but otherwise, the setup I am in lends itself to paranoia and reduced productivity. The grad student/post-doc office space exists as an open mezzanine atop the professors' closed office spaces. This mezzanine is open to the hallway directly separating the profs' offices and the lab space. Everything that is said on the mezzanine can be heard down below and vice versa. Professors will often have conversations about any lab/personal business while basically yelling from their floor up to our floor even though multiple labs share this space and it is a major distraction to every individual working on the mezzanine. Profs, delivery people, and undergrads alike have loud conversations in this hallway or play music, adding to the distraction.

This is an issue that I bring up most often with prospective grad students, asking them to really think, *really* think hard about the kind of environments they can and cannot work in. Being in this space affected me in a way I had never expected and has wasted so much of my energy.

ReginaG said...

I think this is another example of society prioritizing extroverts over introverts. That set-up sounds terrible to me.

Unknown said...

The issue with private conversations doesn't seem adequately addressed by huddle rooms. I've had an innocuous conversation with a student turn confidential in a heartbeat (and you just hope this happens in your office, not in the classroom after a class).

I need to be able to talk confidentially with my students immediately, without having to tell them (even implicitly), "Your problem is shameful enough that we really should be in a huddle room for this."

Also, my office allows for quick and innocuous modulations of privacy and community. An excited study group with questions, or several grad students to talk with a visitor? Open the door, and bring in more chairs. Somebody needs to talk about a delicate political situation? Close the door. A student with whom I should not be in a closed room alone, but who has confidentiality concerns? Leave the door ajar and don't invite others in. All with no required formal declaration of the status of the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Ugh.

Also, FERPA.

Grad student protest: leave student papers with names and grades all over the place and get a lawsuit going against the school. Seems to be the only way.

I try to stay home so I get work done.

Anonymous said...

I have never been in a department where grad students or postdocs get their own offices but they always get a desk. How would you function without a desk?! Yes pdfs are all on my computer now but I use books too and any architect that tells me this is old-fashioned is welcome to scan them for me. As faculty now I wish I could give students better desks/more private space but I have three people in the lab, each with their own desk and while it's not ideal (I wish it were a room of their own) it seems workable and I encourage them to find other spaces (library, coffee shop, home,...) if they have something that requires intense focus. Drifting around looking for a place to temporarily set-up sounds like a HUGE time waste each day.

OMDG said...

FSP -- THANK YOU. I actually have an assigned desk, but it's located in a space that is otherwise unassigned. The constant talking made it completely impossible to get work done, and as a result I have been working from home for the past 3 years (on my dissertation and afterwards). Perhaps driving people out of the building entirely is the true goal -- imagine how much they would save if no space were needed at all!

However, I will also say that my relationships with other people in the department have suffered since I never see them. I can't just ask collaborators questions because I am never on campus. Instead I have to set up formal meetings, and trek to campus whenever I need a question answered. I can't help but think that this has hurt me professionally. I don't really feel part of the department either. I'm sure nobody cares about that though.

Rose said...

I think assigned spaces are important, how would you feel in your house if you didn't sleep en the same place everyday? Mentally it helps you to know that there is a permanent space where you get your job done.
However, I'm in a assigned space office (with other 6 people) and we graduate students don't have an open space to have meetings and collaboration so this is done here (where you disturb everyone) or in a coffee shop. I wish there were some open spaces for us to use. Both spaces are important.

James Annan said...

Late to the conversation, but this is one thing that my recent employer did do quite well, so I think it's worth writing.

We had large rooms of 18 people, in personal cubicles with privacy walls. People are generally pretty quiet in Japan, so this was a decent working environment. The most senior managers had individual offices (3 per 18 researchers, roughly), sometimes shared with their own PA. On top of that, there were enough meeting spaces - 1 or 2 per 18 - that we could have discussions without causing disturbance. This seemed a good compromise between seclusion/privacy/efficiency, and I preferred it to any of my previous working environments.

standrewslynx said...

As a grad student I'm sharing an office area with 10-12 others from my research group. I have a desk entirely to myself (others need to double up).

I think that this is an environment that people self-select themselves in to. I think it is about 60-40 doing "quiet" work: chatting amongst ourselves. There are other research groups here where nobody talks to each other during the day, but I think that the 1st year students who want a mixture of talking and silence go for our group instead.

I like having all the group members in the same office - it makes our group feel a lot more cohesive.

Anonymous said...

I'm a postdoc sharing an office with one other postdoc - he is usually in two days a week.
The biggest plus of days when I have 'my own office': pumping breastmilk while sitting at my desk.
Yes, my university has a very weird room three buildings away designated as a lactation room. But there's no way to get around the inefficiency.

AgainstThePull said...

At my university, we have a bit of a mix of options. The grad students all have a desk in a room of cubicles that also has a large open area in the center with tables and chairs and lots of whiteboard space. There's also a grad student lounge, again with tables, chairs, and whiteboards, where people can go to get away from the office, nap, eat, or work without being distracted. And most of the research assistants also have space in the labs.

It does make it hard to track us down sometimes, but my particular research group is well-trained to check our email constantly in case someone needs to find us!

Lucy in the Garden said...

I think people are territorial creatures. I need a home base, a space to call my own, no matter how small it is. It's a source of comfort and security, a sign that I'm welcomed there.

It's easy to uproot people from their desks, make them "homeless" for the sake of "efficiency" while enjoying a personal office with a door lock.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, FIFA or FERPA or one of those acronyms requires that conversations about student progress be held in private. I never understood how that was supposed to be achieved when my office was shared with 6 other people...

P.S. Do those suggesting the trendy open layout each have THEIR own office? I bet they do.

Anonymous said...

I'm in industry. Our office is assigned seating, but open, so not even cube walls to deaden the sound.

3 feet behind me behind me, the marketing team are having a meeting. Well, they call it a meeting, they've been talking about last night's TV for the last 20 minutes (hence why I'm reading old blogposts - I've entirely given up on the detailed work I'm meant to be doing). 15ft in the other direction, someone is working through a problem on skype with a colleague in an overseas office. The printer has been on and off all day, and it's not a quiet noise. Plus all the other little noises - keyboards clicking, noses sniffing, fans blowing..... there are few ways to engineer a less productive workforce.

Our office has a special feature however, which I think you didn't mention in your original post - all meeting rooms have at least two glass walls with no privacy blinds. When you've got to break bad news to someone, you may as well do it in the canteen for all the confidentiality you have. I hope that in the 6 months since this was posted, your planners have been kindly but firmly shown the door. And that you got to keep your door.

Female Science Professor said...

THANK YOU for your comment on this old post. The idea about "flexible" design/open office came up again YESTERDAY in a meeting. I saw more colorful photos (totally staged) of happy productive people collaborating in an open office. grr

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, it's not about collaborative spaces. It's about saving $$$$$$$$ Don't let anyone tell you it's about the people. It's totally about saving money. Designers, chairs of departments, deans (in business VPs) all make up stupid reasons for messing with people to justify saving money. It's the money stupid.